Childhood obesity continues to reach epidemic proportions worldwide. The jury is still out on exactly why the obesity crisis continues even though there are ample research and health promotion initiatives to warn against it. Research from our Healthy Heart Schools’ Program shows that the obesity problem is present in Niagara as much as it is anywhere else. More specifically, a total of 20,719 students were enrolled and screened for cardiovascular risk factors in our Healthy Heart Schools Program from 2002-2008. Our data shows that within this time-period, the proportion of obese children in each cohort significantly increased from 11% to 13%, at a rate of +0.4% per year. But who can change this trend? Health care providers? Not likely. Parents and teachers? Probably.
Health care providers are effective in acute and chronic disease management but apparently not so effective in preventing or managing the obesity epidemic. Health care providers can have a role in supporting parents and also in contributing to public health policy. But, it is the parents and/or teachers who are interacting with kids on a daily basis that have the most influence on their lives.
In the 2013- 2014 school year Heart Niagara contributed over $200,000 worth of services to support parents and teachers in all Niagara School Boards by providing heart health assessments and CPR/AED training to children in the Niagara region. A component of the heart health assessment is body size measurement and feedback to the students and parents. Recognizing a health risk is the first step in managing it. Discussing heart health messaging with parents and teachers focuses on: 1) Physical Activity, 2) Portion Size, 3) Nutrition Quality and 4) Tobacco Avoidance. This discussion provides them with current evidence-based knowledge that will help them to communicate healthy lifestyle information to their children and students.
A major concern is that obesity tracks into adulthood and a rise in cardiovascular risk in the adolescent population will likely lead to an epidemic of adults with premature diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. So why don’t we smarten up and be healthier as a society? Perhaps the problem is that preventing disease does not seem very heroic compared to rescuing people from heart disease and stroke crises. In reality, parents and teachers are heroes when they can get their kids and students on the right track. Kids are also heroes when they “get it” and are examples for their parents to get on track too.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.